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Homeless mom does medical study for money

Single mom sells herself to science to survive in SCV

Posted: August 23, 2008 9:05 p.m.
Updated: October 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A homeless woman uses a computer at the Canyon Country Library on Tuesday. She lost her home and is striving to keep her son in a Santa Clarita school to ensure he receives a proper education experience.

Despite the uncomfortable August heat, 36-year-old Crystal has been wearing long sleeves lately.

Her arms are spotted with bruises and she doesn't want people to ask why.

Crystal, who asked that her last name be kept confidential, has been homeless in Santa Clarita since she lost her job in March.

To make ends meet, the single mom participated in a monthlong medical study that will pay $6,000.

She feels nauseous and dizzy at times, but she had to do it. She needed the money for her and her son, she said.

For 28 days, she took an experimental drug being tested in treating uterine fibroids. She was admitted as an inpatient for a week when doctors conducted biopsies to track changes in her tissue.

"I've resorted to selling myself to science. Better than selling myself for sex," she said.

She can't afford to live in Santa Clarita, but the six-year resident can't bring herself to leave. The schools here are top quality, and it's the safest place to raise her 11-year-old son, she said.

"Being a single mom, you've got to be concerned," she said.

She refuses to pull her son out of Fair Oaks Elementary School, where he is in sixth grade.

"I've always been a huge stickler about education," she said. "I have a right to live where I want to live."

She also has an 18-year-old son who is now out on his own. Her 11-year-old stays by her side.

Since March, the two have bounced around to temporary homes. They stayed in motels in Canyon Country for two months. At times, she has slept in her Jeep. She has had a few temporary jobs, but has yet to find anything permanent.

She's been searching for an apartment in Santa Clarita to live in with her son, but the affordable places are taken, she said. She has only been placed on waiting lists.

Her belongings are in storage and her cat and dog are staying with her friends in the Antelope Valley.
Earlier this summer, she frequented the local food bank, but food on the shelves has been sparse recently.

"I remember back when I donated to the food banks," she said.

She never thought she would ever actually need their services.

Crystal was desperate for money this summer, so she signed up for a medical study in Beverly Hills to test the experimental uterine fibroid medication.

"They took 100 vials of blood out of me, those vampires," she said. "Before, I didn't care about shots, but now I feel like a human pincushion."

A week after finishing the study, she's still recovering. But for $6,000, it was worth it, she said.

For three years, she was a live-in housekeeper and caretaker for a family in Canyon Country. When the family encountered money troubles, she lost her job, and Crystal and her son had to move out.

Until March, she was attending College of the Canyons where she was one math class away from graduating with an associate of arts degree.

She dropped out when she lost her job and housing because "everything was too unstable, too chaotic," she said.

She has experience caring for the elderly and gets paid for assisting an 85-year-old woman 40 miles away in Littlerock. Crystal and her son stay at the woman's house a couple days a week.

They also stay at Crystal's mother's place in the San Fernando Valley. She lives in a senior housing complex, so Crystal tells the manager she's there to help her mom.

Every day, she goes to the Jo Anne Darcy Library in Canyon Country to search for jobs and apartments online.

She knows she's not the only one. She's noticed another woman living in her car near the library. She uses the library every day, too.

It would be easy to blame the economy for her troubles, which she does a little. But she also blames herself.

"I married at 18. I was in love," she said. "One mistake, and you pay for it. Really bad."

She came to the city with her two sons six years ago from Palmdale to start a "new chapter," she said.

Crystal had married at the age of 18 to a man who she said used drugs and "didn't contribute anything."
The father hasn't helped her out with child support, she said.

"It's my punishment," she said. "He says, ‘Well, you're the one who wanted to be on your own.'"

She moved to a small apartment in Newhall for three years and then in Canyon Country for another three.
Now she's just doing her best to be a good mom, she said.

Although she has struggled for a while as a single mom, she never considered herself to be low-income.
"I've never thought of myself as low-income. I always had a roof over my head," she said. "I grew up with money, but I couldn't take it when I left."

When people find out she's homeless, the first thing people assume is that she is a drug user, she said.
"You're constantly having to explain yourself," she said.

She said she's "anti-drug" and with the exception of participating in the medical trial, she even avoids taking medications.

"There's a stigma. They're very closed-minded here," she said. "I call this place ‘Status Clarita.' It's all about what you wear, what you drive and who you know."


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